The Spectre Leaguers: Part I
By Thomas D’Agostino
Everyone is aware of the Salem, Massachusetts witch trials that took place in 1692 but few have knowledge of an event that took place just north of the Witch City. This ghostly occurrence took place at the same time and it was believed by many to be closely related. Author Samuel Adams Drake wrote of the physical phenomenon that plagued the town of Gloucester, located on Cape Ann.
“It is gravely told in the “Magnalia Christi” of Cotton Mather, and on the authority of the Reverend John Emerson of Gloucester, how a number of rollicking apparitions dressed like gentlemen, in white waistcoats and breeches, kept Gloucester and the neighboring towns in a state of feverish excitement and alarm for a whole fortnight together.
In the midsummer time, in the year 1692, Ebenezer Babson, a sturdy yeoman of Cape Ann, with the rest of his family, almost every night heard noises as if some persons were walking or running hither and thither about the house. He being out late one night, when returning home saw two men come out of his own door, and then at sight of him run swiftly from the end of the house into the adjoining cornfield. Going in, he immediately questioned his family concerning these strange visitors. They promptly replied that no one at all had been there during his absence.”
Babson and the rest of Cape Ann would be besieged for a “fortnight” by what they deduced were ghosts or specters, perhaps even demons in human form sent by the devil to torment them. Drake, along with Mather and others also vouch for the authenticity of the event. Drake, in his writing states,
“But the fact that they were spirits, and no ordinary spirits at that, being so confidently vouched for, and by such high authority on such matters as Dr. Cotton Mather, would seem to dispose of all doubt upon the subject.”
Mather’s account was written shortly after the event and in his own words in the telling, yet the conviction of his narrative has warranted the tale to become an integral part of New England folklore. He relied upon the sworn testimonies of those who actually fought with the unknown assailants who, in their conclusion, were not of this world. The men involved were of solid character and highly respected. For them to fabricate such a story would be detrimental to their caliber in society.
To continue the above narrative by Drake, Babson seized his gun and went in pursuit of the strangers. As he came upon a log, the two men jumped up and ran into the nearby swamp. As they ran, he heard one of them say, “The man of the house is now come, else we might have taken the house.” In an instant, they were gone.
Stricken with fear of an attack by hostile enemies, Babson and his family took shelter in the nearest garrison. Upon entering, the sound of heavy footfalls resembling an army marching around the house was heard. Babson, along woth a few other brave souls armed themselves and sallied forth to confront the enemy. Instead, they saw the same two men fleeing the scene. It was then that they deduced it may have been French scouts and an attack was imminent.
The next night, Babson, being out of the garrison, saw two men once again who he thought to be Frenchmen as one of them had a bright gun, such as the ones used by the French Canadian, slung over his back. Both started towards him but Babson was able to make haste to the garrison where he got safely inside. Once again the heavy footfalss commenced as if a league of men were circling the safe house. Babson and a man named John Brown spied three men outside and took a shot at them. To their surprise, the men dodged their bullets like snowballs lobbed at them from a lame arm. For the next three nights, the three men, or what the towns people now thought were demons or devils, continued to mystically appear here and there in attempts to lure the inhabitants from their safe haven in the garrison.
Watch for Part 2 coming in the December issues.